Steve Marriott was the little star with the big voice. His thirty-year musical career spanned a wide range of success.
He was a child star in the hit musical Oliver and several British films in the early sixties. He was a teen and mod idol with The Small Faces, and then a hard rocking bluesman with Humble Pie.
But the musical success never seemed to translate to financial security and, becoming disillusioned with the music industry, Steve turned his back on the big record companies and manager’s who promised everything except getting paid fairly.
In his later career Marriott returned to his roots playing small gigs in a series of “All-Star” bands in between some, not so successful, reformations of Small Faces and Humble Pie.
In Britain, he is most famous for his three-year stint as the frontman and main vocalist for the Small Faces. As the lead singer of the Small Faces Steve has inspired a whole generation of British musicians including, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher from Oasis and a whole slew of mid-nineties Britpop bands and singers.
The Small Faces never enjoyed the same success in America that they had in the UK and Steve is remembered in the USA chiefly for his second band, Humble Pie, a hard rocking but still blues-based band.
By the early nineties, Steve was playing around 200 gigs a year, often to small crowds, when Peter Frampton – whose American success post-Humble Pie is near legendary – came to Britain to ask Steve to consider reforming Humble Pie to produce a one-off album and a reunion tour. Marriott agreed and in January 1991 he flew out to California to join Frampton at his studio in Los Angeles to begin working on new material for the Pie reunion. But the project was never completed and, after a change of heart, on 19 April 1991 Marriott flew back to the UK with his wife. And tragically in the evening of 19th/20th April Steve Marriott was tragically killed in a fire at his Essex home.
Steve Marriott was born on 30 January 1947 to Bill and Kay Marriott, who lived at Strone Road, Manor Park in the east-end of London. His father, Bill, worked as a printer and his mother, Kay, worked at the Tate & Lyle factory in Silvertown. Later Bill owned a jellied eels stall, called ‘Bill’s Eels’, outside the Ruskin Arms hotel.
His origins, of course, were in the East End of London. He came from a fairly musical background – his father Bill being an accomplished pub pianist – who was the life and soul of many an East End night. Bill bought Marriott a ukulele and harmonica and Steve taught himself to play the instruments at an early age, and thus began a lifelong ability to pick up a musical instrument and, within half an hour, have the knack of playing it.
During boyhood seaside holidays, Steve would invariably win all the talent competitions. Usually, the first his family would know anything was when he arrived back at the holiday home with a pocketful of cash – that and earning money by busking along the rows of beach huts with his ukulele.
Together with his school friends Nigel Chapin and Robin Andrews, Steve Marriott formed his first band when he was twelve. They called themselves ‘The Wheels’, later on, the ‘Coronation Kids’, and finally they settled on the ‘Mississippi Five’, after adding Simon Simkins and Vic Dixon to the band. The young musicians would play together in the local coffee bars in East Ham and perform Saturday morning gigs at the Essoldo Cinema in Manor Park.
A big Buddy Holly fan from a young age, Marriott would imitate his hero by putting on large-rimmed spectacles with the lenses removed. One of his first original songs was a number called “Sheila My Dear”, written for his aunt which is said to have been in the style of Buddy Holly.
Steve hits the stage in Oliver!
Steve Marriott’s father saw a newspaper advert in 1960 for auditions for a new Artful Dodger to join the cast of Lionel Bart’s popular musical Oliver!, based on Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, in London’s West End. Bill applied without telling his boy about the audition.
Marriott auditioned for the part by singing two tunes, “Oh, Boy! ” by Buddy Holly and “Who’s Sorry Now” by Connie Francis. Bart was very impressed with Marriott’s vocal abilities and, at the age of thirteen, Marriott was on stage in the West End.
Legend has it that when Lionel Bart first auditioned Steve he already knew Marriott by seeing him busking with his harmonica around the bus stops in the East End, and he immediately said on seeing Steve, “That’s the one I want”.
Steve stayed with the show for a year or so, playing various boys’ roles during that period, for which he was paid £8 a week. Marriott was also chosen to provide the lead vocals for the Artful Dodger songs “Consider Yourself” and “Be Back Soon”, in addition to “I’d Do Anything” from the show, for the official album of the stage show, released through the World Record Club. These were recorded in the world famous Abbey Road Studios.
Following the success in Oliver!, Steve was urged to pursue an acting career by his family. Soon afterwards he enrolled at Italia Conti Theatre Academy and he quickly obtained acting roles, performing consistently in film, television, and radio. Frequently typecast as the cheeky Cockney kid Marriott soon lost interest in acting and returned to his first love, music. This disappointed his parents and, as a result, he moved out of the family home to stay with friends.
From The Moments to the Small Faces
By 1963 Steve had secured a solo recording deal with Decca on the strength of his song “Imaginary Love”. Decca released Steve Marriott’s first solo single in July 1963. The A-side was not “Imaginary Love” but a Kenny Lynch penned number called “Give Her My Regards” but it didn’t sell well. Later in 1963,
Marriott formed a new band The Frantiks, who recorded a cover of the late-fifties Cliff Richard hit “Move It” but the recording gathered no interest from the record companies. Changing their name to The Moments, the band hit the road and gathered a loyal following playing their own gigs and support for the big artists of the early sixties.
Building on their live success, the Moments secured a record deal with the World Artists label but their version of The Kinks hit “You Really Got Me” was not a success even in its intended market in the United States. After this lack of chart success, the other members of the band dropped Steve, claiming he was “too young to be a lead singer”. Without a band, Marriott fulfilled some upcoming gigs by offering to join a band called The Checkpoints, who rehearsed at The Kentish Drovers in the Old Kent Road in South London. He also had worked at a music shop called the J60 Music Bar where, in 1965, a fateful meeting with Ronnie Lane was about to happen.
The Small Faces
For the full story of The Small Faces click here.
That first meeting of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane led to one of the most defining groups of British music of the sixties and the Small Faces had 10 UK Top 20 singles and a number one in 1966’s All Or Nothing. In a little over three years, the band evolved from a heavily rhythm & blues-based mod sound to become one of the bands at the forefront of British psychedelia.
Ronnie and Steve knew each other from the year before when their bands shared a billing at a gig. Bringing on board Kenney Jones on the drums and Jimmy Winston on keyboards, the band soon found their feet, and fans, playing a combination of their own material and R&B classics.
With attention on the band growing, they signed a management deal with Don Arden and Decca Records offered a deal shortly afterwards. Their first single, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” went Top 20 although their second single of 1965, “I’ve Got Mine” failed to chart.
Late 1965 saw Ian McLagan replace Jimmy Winston on keyboards and the new lineup was soon back in the charts. 1966 saw the band have four UK Top 10 singles, including their first number one “All Or Nothing” and also the release of their first self-titled album.
Relations between the band and Decca and Arden soon became strained because despite the chart success and the Small Faces being one of the biggest live draws of the year the band had little to show for it financially. After some ugly scenes, the band broke with both label and manager.
In 1967 the band moved to ex-Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Oldham’s, Immediate label. Although their first release of the year, “I can’t make It” was released on Decca for contractual reasons and a lack of promotion by the band ensured it failed to reach the Top 20. This was followed up by their first Immediate single, “Here Comes the Nice”, and the Top 10 hits “Itchycoo Park” and “Tin Soldier” along with another, confusingly, self-titled album (this was released in the United States as “There Are But Four Small Faces” with an altered track list).